Questions, Comments, Concerns: Anne of Green Gables

In all my Gilmore Girls hysteria I missed the television event I never knew I didn’t need: the 2016, YTV, Martin Sheen-ified remake of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, which aired on PBS Thanksgiving night. Ahem, American Thanksgiving night. While I first fell in love with the world of Avonlea through Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books, I also have a real fondness for the One True Film Adaptation: the 1985 CBC Miniseries directed by Kevin Sullivan and starring Megan Follows, Richard Farnsworth and Colleen Dewhurst. We’ve written about Anne in our takedown of Marilla Cuthbert as a creepy church hag  and in our mixed-feelings analysis of dream man Gilbert Blythe. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the newest adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, which I didn’t really need but which was perfectly fine, I suppose.

Concern: Megan Follows

Personally, I’d argue that any time Anne of Green Gables is made it should star Megan Follows. I understand that she is like 40 years old (EDIT: Forty-EIGHT years old?!?! Which isn’t old, except I see her as a perpetual teen). However, in the 1985 Anne of Green Gables she wasn’t exactly 11 anyway, so may as well keep going with it.

Question: Why is Matthew so bumbling?

Matthew was always quiet and a bit awkward, but I thought it was more in the painfully shy way instead of in a clumsy-lady-in-a-romcom way.

Comment: The casting of Matthew is almost aggressively American.

This time it’s Martin Sheen. Last time it was Richard Farnsworth. Both played the role with an aged cowboy vibe. Hmm. I mean there’s AMERICAN, and then there’s Martin Sheen/ Richard Farnsworth-level American.

Concern: That is the worst red hair I’ve ever seen.

Anne. “Nobody with hair that awful could ever be perfectly happy” because it is a horrendous dye job. I’ll pull out my redhead card (it’s actually an appointment reminder from my dermatologist because red hair is a curse indeed) and say that in the first place, only certain skin and eye tones work with red hair. This adorable actress (surely cast because she was the best for the role; she does a great job) just doesn’t have redhead-compatible undertones. Add to that a weird, improbable shade of red dye and the worst Halloween costume-level painted freckles I have seen in my life, and it just does not work at all.

Comment: All of the kids are the right age.

As an adult I can watch the One True Anne of Green Gables and pretend all those kids look 12-13 years old. But as a kid who was the same age as Anne I remember being so confused as to why they all looked 18. Note: it’s because they were all 18. It was especially jarring in the scenes where they’d mention Anne being scrawny and 11-year-old me was like “for real, she looks post-pubescent.” The casting made sense because the 1985 Anne of Green Gables combined Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea, and this one is Anne of Green Gables only. It’s very different seeing Anne look like an actual little girl. She comes across as more precocious for her age and less like a weirdo quirky teenager. All in all, not a bad move.

Question: Why is the new White Way of Delight so bad?
THIS is how it should be.

THIS is how it should be.

Comment: Puffed sleeves are proof that trends may change, but terrible tween fads are a constant.

Does anyone remember reading about Anne’s puffed sleeves and imagining something positively dreamy, only to see those big ugly ’80s-looking things? Proof that fads come and go, but they’re almost always stupid.

Comment: “Would you please STOP TALKING?”

Marilla speaking truth to how I’d feel about Anne as an adult who had to deal with her – even though I wouldn’t say it.

Comment: New Anne is different, but good.
I mean, the kid is adorable.

I mean, the kid is adorable.

New Anne (Ella Ballentine) is a little less dreamy and out of it, a little more introspective and quick-witted, but in a way that is supported by the way Anne is written in the books. I’m so relieved they don’t have her trying to do a Megan Follows impression. Between the different take on Anne and the different ages of the actors, this is at least enough different from the old version to make it worth a watch.

Question: Why is Rachel Lynde so awful?

I’d think that Rachel was improbably bad, but then I remember that adults DID make comments about my red hair and freckles when I was a kid. However, I am still baffled as to why Rachel’s so terrible. Sure, she doesn’t have kids, but neither do I and I know enough not to call them ugly.

Comment: A+ Canadian pronunciation of “sorry” and “out.”
Comment: A++ Rachel Lynde apology scene

We see it from afar, with Anne gesticulating dramatically and Rachel looking bemused. Ha.

Comment: Marilla chuckling to herself over Anne closing her prayer with “et cetera, et cetera.”

I liked this moment showing why Marilla’s keeping this kid around – Anne drives her crazy, but Marilla gets a kick out of her. Who wouldn’t?

Comment: The hair is better out of natural light.

Same with the freckles.

Question: Did this film even HAVE a colorist, or…?
If you can give Anne bad red hair, surely you can give Diana bad black hair.

If you can give Anne bad red hair, surely you can give Diana bad black hair.

Diana has light brown hair with a slight tint of ginger, even though everyone knows Diana has black hair. In some cases a character’s description in a book isn’t important, but in Anne of Green Gables it mattered because (1) Anne’s hair was a major plot device and (2) Diana’s hair marked her as everything Anne wasn’t.

Comment: Diana is good and different, too.

I always imagined Diana being much more calm, cool and together than Anne, but this actress (Julia Lalonde) plays Diana as a slightly awkward tween. I can totally see her getting drunk on raspberry cordial by accident. This less-smooth take on Diana works since she and Anne are both so imaginative – kindred spirits! – and because Diana’s so sheltered by her mother. Not to mention, the “Diana’s so cool and pretty” stuff was mostly coming from how Anne saw her because she absolutely had one of those tween friend-crushes where you just want someone to be BFFs with you.

To make up for the lack of black hair dye, this Diana has expressive dark brown eyes, which feels very Diana.

Concern: I never realized how much my concept of Gilbert was tied up in having a crush on Gilbert.

Gilbert was played by college-age dreamboat Jonathan Crombie (RIP) in the 1985 version. which means both that he was one of the first leading men I remember having a crush on, and also that it didn’t feel weird to find him cute when I rewatched as an adult. New Gilbert is a baby. I mean, a small child. It drives home how jerk-era Gilbert from the books was a little kid, which is nice, but it still makes me feel like a filthy old lady to see Gilbert as a child.

Comment: Diana getting lit on raspberry cordial.

It’s still one of the best scenes in this or any version of Anne of Green Gables.

Props to Ella(/Anne) for her delivery of “what’s that?” when Diana says her mother has hives – both girls are talking in fake fancy accents and she totally drops it. Cute.

Woozy Diana and confused Anne – both so good!

Comment: We all get creep vibes from Mr. Phillips, right?

In the books, Mr. Phillips courts teen student Prissy Andrews, but even if he hadn’t he’s just creep vibes all around. I’m happy they had this actor portray Mr. Phillips as a sketchy mean teacher, too.

Comment: The scene where Anne saves Diana’s sister is so much more touching as an adult.

It was always clear Anne had a lot of child know-how because she was basically an indentured servant for giant families, but now it’s even more touching because you see how everyone thinks Anne’s silly because she’s so imaginative, but really that’s an escape – she’s an incredibly intelligent and competent girl who never got to be a kid before.

Also, Mrs. Barry is kind of a B for only forgiving Anne after she saves her kid.

Anne: Why are you standing there?
Gilbert: For your safety.


Concern: Marilla would never try to return a kid she bought THAT LATE


Marilla did buy a kid for chores and then try to return her. We don’t let her off the hook for it. However, this adaptation sneaks in a moment of dramatic tension by having Marilla almost return Anne at the close of the film after she’s been established in Avonlea for, like, a year or something. Then Marilla decides to keep Anne thanks to VOICE OF REASON RACHEL LYNDE. Lots to unpack here. I understand why someone adapting Anne of Green Gables would feel that there needs to be a point of conflict at the conclusion. However, Anne of Green Gables, like many children’s classics – Little Women comes to mind – is a series of episodes rather than one large problem to be solved. The story develops over the course of several novels, and there is real conflict in whether Anne will get to stay, if she will remain friends with Diana, make peace with Gilbert, and later on in whether she will earn top marks, go away to school, fulfill her career goals and finally make up her mind about Gilbert. The Anne books, like childhood itself, aren’t a buildup to one stunning turning point. They are a series of events that inch a person closer and closer to the adult they will become.

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Anne Of Green Gables 2013

Let’s talk about Canadian television. I lived in a border city for 3 years, and spent some quality time with Canadian TV. It’s mostly made up of American shows, hockey, people talking about hockey, Tim Hortons commercials, snow – just, like, programming about snow, because Canada has so damn much of it, and people who generally look all healthy and financially secure and smug because they all have health care. Every once in a while, you get a Degrassi in there. The piece de resistance of Canadian television is the 1985 CBC adaptation of Anne of Green Gables.

As a dramatic, bookish redheaded child, I was more or less obligated to love Anne of Green Gables. If you loved her, too, you will remember a few things about her. She was an orphan who always had her head in the clouds, she was outspoken but always meant well, and — oh yeah, she lived in the 18-fucking-hundreds or something. So when I heard that Canadian TV was adapting Anne of Green Gables to a modern setting, I was a little confused. None of the plotlines even make sense in 2013. Clearly, a couple tweaks are in order. Frankly, I don’t think Tim Hortons will even sponsor this mess.

Here’s what will happen if Canada brings Anne Shirley to the new millennium:

Matthew and Marilla are the worst people ever

The entire premise of Anne of Green Gables falls apart when you move it to this millennium. In the 1908 novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery, Matthew and Marilla order a boy from the orphanage in order to help Matthew with the farm work. They end up with Anne instead. In 2013, buying children to do manual labor is pretty illegal. An 11-year-old girl going to stay with elderly siblings who live together – because they buy her to do work – wouldn’t test well with today’s audiences. I think the only thing they could do is have Anne come from some sort of foster care situation, which would work with the prejudice ol’ Rachel Lynde has against her. Still, though, the show wouldn’t work if Marilla’s this warm, fuzzy older lady who just wants to help an underprivileged girl succeed. She sort of has to be a brittle church-hag who tried to buy a little boy for chores.

Bath Salts Are The New Raspberry Cordial

Remember when Anne invited Diana over for tea, then accidentally got Diana drunk on raspberry cordial, then they weren’t allowed to be friends for a while? Most parents still wouldn’t like the kid who got their daughter drunk, but I think raspberry cordial has lost some shock value in the intervening hundred years. It even sounds like an old-timey refreshment you’d have at tea-time. Nowadays, to get the same punch Anne would have to come across bath salts, sprinkle it on some food, then be all surprised when Diana goes on a drug-induced face-eating rampage. Or, Diana would have an allergy attack and Anne would mix up Zyrtec with Xanax and get Diana all spacey. You got to admit, for such a smart girl Anne could be a little dense sometimes.

“Carrots” Isn’t Really An Insult Anymore

You’ll remember that Anne and Gilbert’s hate-to-tolerance-to-friendship-to-love trajectory began with Gilbert mockingly referring to Anne as “carrots.” In 2013, any teen girl would be like “that’s all you got, Gil?”. In the modern adaptation, instead of calling Anne carrots, Gilbert’s going to set up a Facebook page called “Anne Shirley is a Fire Crotch,” and it’s going to get 300 likes in the first day. Anne won’t smash a slate over his head, she’ll create an unflattering gif set of Gilbert and post it to her tumblr. Josie Pye likes Gil’s page, obviously, because in 2013 as in 1890, Josie Pye is a freaking bitch.

Prissy Andrews and Mr. Phillips? Hello, Sweeps Month Drama

100 years ago, the weird moon-eyes Prissy used to make over Mr. Phillips was supposed to mean that she was a horrible suck-up who would probably marry him after she graduated at 16 or whatever. In 2013, it still means that Prissy is a horrible suck-up who will probably marry Mr. Phillips when she drops out at 16 or whatever (or 18 – not sure of the law there). However, it also means that Mr. Phillips is a total pedophile, which explains why he was so damn creepy. For a 3-episode arc, Anne of Green Gables will become a legal drama as they sort this whole mess out.

Green Hair Dye: Unlikely

Hardly anyone’s given me shit about having red hair, and the dozen-ish times that it has happened it didn’t bother me. So, I don’t think that a 2013 Anne Shirley would be so distraught over her auburn locks that she’d buy hair dye from a peddler and turn it green. I’m thinking she’d be more likely to lose her hair in a knockoff keratin treatment attempt. If the producers want to have a Very Special Episode, maybe Anne could get hooked on bootleg diet drugs or get a suspicious mole excised because she’d been tanning away her redhead complexion. After 100 years, teen girls are still trying wacky things to look better, but I think that carroty hair would be the least of Anne’s concerns.

Puffed sleeves are SO 1908

Anne waited years to be old enough to wear puffed sleeves. Like many young readers, I wondered what exactly that meant but imagined it to be the most beautiful sleeve configuration possible. Then, I saw the movie, and was horrified by these sleeves that looked like they were stuffed with wadded-up shopping bags and cribbed from a 1980s bridesmaid dress. I don’t know what the modern answer to puffed sleeves would be — something that’s considered too grown-up for a young girl, and which looks absolutely ridiculous. Is it half-shirts, now that those are back?

Anne Shirley is now 45 years old

As far as I’m concerned, Megan Follows is the only Anne Shirley. Since nothing about a modern-day Anne of Green Gables makes sense, I don’t see why we need to be all accurate and have a 13-year-old in the role. Let’s just stick with Follows. There may as well be something good in this whole debacle.

Matthew doesn’t die

If we can move Anne of Green Gables to 2013, we can do anything with the story, right? So, let’s let Matthew live and spare all of the little illiterate kids that psychic trauma. Children who have read the book can just keep that development to themselves.